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Monday, July 9, 2012

The Reality of Hell (part two in a series)

So Saturday I wrote about Art Demoss and the incredible passion he had for souls. A passion that challenged me at my Baccalaureate Service this past May 11th when Dr. Luis Palau spoke and told us about the incredible number of people Mr. DeMoss had personally won to Jesus.
I briefly touched on what kind of heart held such a passion. What kind of preparation would render a man literally "Always ready to give an answer to the hope that lies within you..." (1 Peter 3:15) I wondered at the scripture memorization, the boldness, the fervor, the vision. I marveled as I wrote that post. Art DeMoss was not a pastor or an evangelist. He was a businessman. He owned an insurance company (amongst other businesses). Arthur Demoss was that rare individual who was able to be about his Father's business while doing business in the world.
But what motivated him? What was it about his soul that took the Great Commission so seriously and followed it so thoroughly? What could we do to follow the example he left?
I never knew Mr. DeMoss, so everything I write here will be conjecture on my part. But I think I am on the right track in what I have to say. I think the incredible burden God has placed on my soul over this matter will suffice where it comes to assuming what drove  Art DeMoss's passion for the lost.
So for the next few days...or weeks...I am going to explore what it is I believe--and what God reveals to me as we go along--Art DeMoss thought and felt and what drove his passion. Whatever it was, I do know it is found in scripture, so the secret isn't really a secret at all. It's a matter of looking to a man who took Jesus at His word and never failed to tell anyone within earshot about his Savior. This is something we can all do.
So what drives a passion for the lost?
I think the obvious answer is in three parts. One: The incredible, soul-consuming desire to want others to have a relationship with Jesus as we do. If our faith is even a sliver of what we say it is or what the Bible says it can be...we should want everyone to have that. We'll get back to this point on another post. Point two is the overwhelming desire to obey and please Jesus Christ. To do what brings Him joy. Well address that later as well.
Today I want to address the third driving force.
I am 48 years old...almost 49. I have attended church since I was 9 years old. In the 40 years that have come and gone I have watched as the evangelical pendulum swung from the old extreme of "Hell, fire, and brimstone" preaching that made the average person cringe with it's shallow approach of salvation-as-a-fire escape, and painting a picture of a God who hates us all. It swung to the new extreme of not mentioning hell at all.
I wondered as I grew older, how can we reconcile the teaching that God loved us and that He punishes us in such a furious anger? Let me be clear, I never doubted the need for punishment or the biblical propriety of eternal hell. I got it. God is righteous and we are not. Our sin caused us eternal separation from God. My issue came about with the fierce, ruthless anger with which God was presented to me back then. The God I grew up knowing was cruel. He thoroughly enjoyed the Hell that awaited us rotten sinners. The entire image I had of Him didn't jive with why He ever sent his son to die for us in the first place. I mean if God was this angry at us...why did He sacrifice Jesus for us?
The preachers of the day seemed to relish the idea that a fiery hell awaited the lost. It's all they ever talked about. Never about a God who says of Himself; "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23) That God was lost in translation. Screaming about God's hatred of sin and increasingly blurring the lines between the sin and the sinners trapped in them was the rule of the day. The more angry a preacher got, the more he yelled and pronounced curses upon the lost world, the more godliness he was assigned. I was raised in a church that heaped heavy burdens on the shoulders of it's members. Burdens of guilt, shame, and fear. Fear of the very God who was desperately trying to love us.
This isn't the Hell that motivates a man to win 32,000 people to Jesus in a brief 53 year lifespan. That hell would cause emotional overload at some point. Because who would believe so deeply in a God so angry? How can that God motivate me to boldly, unapologetically, consistently, and fervently preach the gospel with my life in a minute by minute sermon heard by every living soul in my proximity?
I think the view of hell that motivates me to devote my life to the lost is the hell that really exists. The place of eternal separation from God.  The place where God's heart is more broken than it was at Calvary. The one place in all of Creation where not a shred of His presence exists. Hell is punishment, this is certain. I believe in a literal hell. I believe it is as it appears in scripture...a place of torment, pain, fire, punishment and darkness. But I believe it is more than that. Hell is the total, complete and utter absence of God and of any tiniest sliver of good. The eternal darkness is not so much the dark of night as it is the absence of any light. Any light. A dark so deep and complete that it strikes fear in your heart, A dark that screams in silence; "There is no hope of light ever penetrating here...not even for a nanosecond...not ever." A dark that consumes you with dread. A dark that is the spiritual absence of God Himself.
I am not a nihilist. I do not believe that God eventually consumes hell and ends the suffering of it's occupants. I believe it is as eternal as Heaven is. I also believe that the biggest source of pain and suffering in hell will not be the punishment that is extracted there. I believe what makes hell the terrible place it the absence of God.
God's presence in this world...and in our souls to a minute degree (Pascal's God shaped vacuum) is really what keeps this world in some sort of order. It's why our laws work for the vast majority of us.
Had we not been created in His image...and had not a tiny spark of that image remained even after the fall...this world would be a declining bloodbath of savagery. We would break every law and rule from jaywalking to spitting on the sidewalk to adultery, theft and murder. There would be chaos without restraint. Human nature teaches us this. We are selfish and we want what we want. The laws aren't what stops chaos...if that were the case not one law would be broken by anyone. It's the image of God...what we call our "conscience" that keeps us on this side of the law and keeps the world a fairly orderly place.
Remove God's presence from this place, both His unseen (but not unfelt) presence in the world at large and His presence in us as our conscience, and you would have total depravity. You would have a world that was declining at an alarming rate. You'd have murder, mayhem, adultery, theft...all manner of wickedness. You'd have a dark pawl cast over this world that we have never even imagined. The darkness as Jesus hung on the cross was a tiny example...just a few moments long...of what becomes of the world when God looks away and withdrawals Himself.
That is hell. Hell is where God is not. It's where God will never be and where man will be left to his own devices without any moral restraint whatsoever. The image of Satan and his minions stabbing sinners with pitchforks as they roast over an open flame is not exactly true. He is there for punishment too and he'll be too consumed with his own eternal fate to be part of a ruling class. Hell's furious severity will be the culmination of the wickedness of mankind all concentrated in one dark, dreadful place. In their anguish, anger, and pain, the occupants of hell will extract from each other the price for their sin. Take God out of the world and the world will devour itself. The is what hell will be only there will be no death, so the horror will never stop for the occupants.
This is what drives a man to devote himself to soul-winning. Not some screaming pulpit-smashing "Prea-chuh" who picks the low-hanging fruit by scaring people into a trip to the altar. This vision of hell drives us not to anger or fear but to broken hearted compassion. This hell is the greatest monument to man's free will ever created. Every occupant but Satan will walk in under his own power...marching toward his final choice.
That hell is so terrible that God would let his own beloved Son be butchered...carved like a piece of meat and hung on a cross as an object of all we need to know about how terrible a place this is. And yet...
When was the last time you or I heard a sermon series about Hell?
That pendulum has swung so far toward the opposite end that hell is never mentioned anymore. We hear well known Evangelicals speaking about sex, money, politics, Heaven, music, worship, tithing, what book to read ans how many Twitter followers they have. But they never mention hell.
The latest trend in Evangelical churches is to preach on heaven. There are probably a dozen books on the topic right now. Books by little kids who had near-death experiences and saw Heaven. Books by evangelists and preachers. (My own pastors book about Heaven notwithstanding...but his is a bit different and was born out of the comfort he and his wife sought after their oldest son went to Heaven after a car crash.)
But when have we heard a series on Hell? The Bible is chock full of references about Hell. Jesus spoke often about Hell. There were biblical examples of hell opening up and consuming wicked folks before they even died. We believe...or claim to believe...that hell is a ghastly place where the unsaved spend eternity. But I fear the church has long ago stopped really believing in hell. Hell doesn't keep us awake at night worrying about folks ending up there. Hell doesn't haunt our dreams or drive us to our knees in anguished hours of prayer. Hell doesn't motivate our thoughts or prompt our words. hell is not foremost on our minds when we view a lost world.
I know...I am guilty of this too.
Because I have not thought about the biblical hell, and because I have not been subject to preaching and teaching about hell, I have allowed hell to become--in my heart and mind-- just a place where the eternal score is evened. I imagine it as punishment that I could dispense. Where bullies get their due and murderers are burning forever. But It's more a vision of hell if Craig Daliessio was in charge. There would be good guys there who did the punishing. Jerry Sandusky's victims would be there...safely behind a double wall of glass...enjoying iced tea and finger food as their monstrous tormenter was given his come-uppance. Then the whistle would blow at 5pm and all the players in the grand play would retire to their cells for the night and the whole thing would begin again in the morning. The reality is that hell will (unless Grace reaches him) torment Jerry Sandusky in such a complete, wicked, dreadful manner that even his victims would look away in horror. Hitler's hell would drive a Holocaust survivor to tears. That is the reality of hell. And that is a message I have not heard in probably 30 years.
And unless we catch a vision of the real hell...and let it begin to drive us to our knees and then to the streets...we will never have the sort of passion that wins 32,000 individual souls to Jesus in our lifetimes.
We need to smell the fires in our nostrils just a bit. We need to hear the echoes of the screams of the damned as we sleep. We need a clear, no-holds-barred presentation of the reality of hell in our pulpits and let it push us to become a soul-winning people once again.
I believe Art DeMoss believed in hell. I believe it was a part of what motivated him to live a life of harvest. I pray to God I can catch but a glimpse...
Until tomorrow


Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the church. And I cannot bear to think about anyone going to hell. But it is in Scripture. I don't understand it. But i won't rewrite Scripture or redefine what God has said just because it is painful.

CraigD2599 said...

Not sure where you drew that inference. If anything I am faulting the church...specifically the reformed and prosperity sects, with altering the biblical picture if hell or (in the case of Reformed theology) minimizing the urgency and the necessity of evangelism. My position...and that of this post was that Hell is real, terrible and should be a desperate, motivating factor in our lives.